Jason Hammel, Colorado Rockies (1 percent ESPN; 2 percent Yahoo!)
Hammel seemed to get overlooked quite often last year, and not much has changed in 2011. He is still available in 98-99 percent of ESPN and Yahoo! leagues despite his 3.80 ERA and three consecutive quality starts.
Last year, Hammel set a career-high strikeout rate at 7.1 per nine innings, but he has not shown that same bat-missing ability thus far. Instead, Hammel is succeeding by making hitters swing to get on base (2.3 BB/9) and getting them to put the ball on the ground (52 percent ground ball rate). Ground ball pitchers are a great fit for Coors Field because of the light air and the very spacious outfield.
Hammel is fit for mixed league play, especially since his strikeout rate should start climbing as he accrues more innings.
Next start: Thursday, May 5 @ Arizona
Jason Marquis, Washington Nationals (3 percent ESPN; 3 percent Yahoo!)
It seems like low-strikeout, low-walk, high-grounder pitchers will populate this week's column, and for good reason—the latter two are great qualities when the former is absent. Marquis is another pitcher that has those characteristics, and he is off to a decent start for the Nationals.
Marquis struck out nine against the New York Mets on April 10, but starts like that are once in a blue moon. In his other three starts, he struck out a grand total of eight batters. There may be good news, though, as his current walk rate (1.8 BB/9) is much lower than at any time during his career. Be skeptical, but even a slight adjustment that allows Marquis better control could pay dividends in NL-only leagues.
Next start: Wednesday, May 4 @ Philadelphia
Livan Hernandez, Washington Nationals (7 percent ESPN; 8 percent Yahoo!)
Livan is an option for NL-only leagues. His extremely low strikeout rate will hurt you in mixed leagues, as he is not good enough in any other area to warrant the sacrifice. Additionally, because of how much contact he induces, he is prone to the peaks and valleys of BABIP luck. While he may end up tossing seven innings of shutout baseball every now and then, he will also have a complete clunker that sinks your pitching stats for the week.
In NL-only leagues, though, you have a bit more give for Livan's variance since your options are much more limited.
Next start: Tuesday, May 3 @ Philadelphia
Jeff Francis, Kansas City Royals (4 percent ESPN; 6 percent Yahoo!)
Francis had a rough outing on Wednesday against the Cleveland Indians, his second consecutive start, spanning seven innings, in which he allowed five earned runs. In those seven innings, he has allowed 19 hits and one walk, while striking out only three. To say he has been BABIP-unlucky would be an understatement, but he has always been known as a pitcher that induces a lot of contact. As such, he will have slides where he allows a bunch of hits in a short time span.
Last week, Francis was recommended for those of you in AL-only leagues. Nothing changes this week, despite the struggles.
Next start: Tuesday, May 3 vs. Baltimore Orioles
Brandon McCarthy, Oakland Athletics (27 percent ESPN; 19 percent Yahoo!)
McCarthy also had some problems in his most recent start, getting hit hard by the Angels for seven runs in five and one-third innings. The damage was done via 14 hits. This is me making my skeptical face. He has been effective in four of his five starts this year, averaging about six strikeouts and one walk per nine innings, and is still worth a look in deep mixed leagues and certainly in AL-only leagues.
Next Start: Monday, May 2 vs. Texas Rangers
Packing Up the Bags
For Your NL-Only…
Jeff Karstens, Pittsburgh Pirates (0 percent ESPN; 1 percent Yahoo!)
Ross Ohlendorf landed on the disabled list, opening up a spot for Karstens. Karstens will remain in the Buccos' rotation for as long as Ohlendorf is out, which should be until at least mid-May—roughly two or three starts.
Karstens has not shown much in his 355 career innings at the Major League level. He does not miss bats with any regularity and induces a lot of fly balls, but he does have decent control. In NL-only leagues, Karstens is worth a look for a couple spot starts while you deal with your own managerial problems.
Next start: Tuesday, May 3 @ San Diego
For Your AL-Only…
Joel Pineiro, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (9 percent ESPN; 3 percent Yahoo!)
Pineiro could make his 2011 debut on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays. He was sidelined with a shoulder injury much to the chagrin of Angels fans. Last year, he performed as expected, posting a sub-4.00 ERA with mediocre strikeouts, earning success with scant free passes and a slew of ground balls.
Pineiro seemed to reinvent himself in 2009 with the St. Louis Cardinals under the tutelage of pitching coach-slash-wizard Dave Duncan. That success continued last year after signing with the Angels as a free agent.
Starting him on Saturday against the red-hot Rays may be a risk. However, you probably do not have the luxury of picking and choosing at this point in the season, and it is quite possible that he becomes an option for mixed league players before long. If you want to hedge your bets, pick him up, but leave him on your bench on Saturday.
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